“Eye in The Sky” is a difficult type of movie to pull off. It’s all centered around one event, the one event being a potential targeted drone airstrike against three high value terrorist targets, and has to build tension without many of the characters having a direct involvement with what’s going on the ground. Most of our main players sit around computer screens and make assessments from the comfort of their nicely designed office chairs and cups of coffee. The operation goes horribly wrong when a little girl could be caught in the cross fire of the drone strike and the high ranking government officials (and drone pilots) have to make the decision to fire the shot or not. The catch is the terrorists are clearly planning a suicide bombing which adds extra urgency to the mission.
This is a type of movie that could easily become boring under the weight of attempting to answer its own morality questions. But director Gavin Hood wisely keeps his own morality hidden behind the camera and lets the movie explore the many different facets of the complex situation. The film lets the audience debate over the moral ethics of it all. Who was right? Who was wrong?
To be completely upfront I’m not well educated on the area of drone strikes in terms of its technical nature. I’m not sure how accurate it is towards real life events or a typical drone operation. Whether it’s technically competent or not doesn’t seem to matter when Hood creates a situation that feels very real. Hood never feels like he betrays the realism of the events for some ridiculous finale or otherwise for the dramatic. In other words, if this movie is inaccurate you never feel it is. The characters weave together an impressive string of legal talk, rules of engagement, and lines of operations that feels very real.
In any event the plot of “Eye in the Sky” is very topical to today’s headlines. Last year’s Andrew Niccol directed war drama “Good Kill” attempted to explore similar themes to “Eye in the Sky”. However whereas “Good Kill” looks at a drone pilot that over time beings to question the ethics of the drones, “Eye in the Sky” focuses on one event.
The main players of this event is a Colonial played by Helen Mirren; a general played by the late great Alan Rickman (who has a strong last performance), a pair of drone pilots played by “Breaking Bad” actor Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox, a ground unit spy played by the Academy nominated actor Barkhad Abdi, and “Game of Thrones” Iain Glenn. There are a number of other players in the movie (for a smaller movie this does have a larger cast of characters). Nearly all bring strong and earnest performances to the table.
The weakest aspects of the cast were from by Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox. Not that they were bad or anything like that; various moments throughout the film they are quite strong. And perhaps it’s the way Gavin Hood directed them as characters but they over play their emotional cards far too soon and too often. I felt to have two pilots show so much emotion so quickly felt at odds with the realism of the movie. Had they saved that type of emotional pull for later in the movie it would have made the performances more nuanced and stronger as a whole.
The movie itself is more often than not thrilling but sometimes it’s frustrating. While certainly more thoughtful than recent war movies like “13 Hours” (which I did enjoyed) and “American Sniper” (which I enjoy less with every passing viewing) Hood has a tendency to drag out the events of the movie. Towards the beginning the movie’s pacing is pitch perfect. There is a bit of slower burn to get to its more tension filled moments. I do think there is a lot more meat on this movie than needed to be there (some of which defuses the tension of the film). Did we need to see Ian Gienn having food poisoning? Perhaps it was their way of bringing levity to a movie full of serious moments. But there are a number of moments like that that I think takes away from the ratcheting tension of the growing situation.
This being said when the tension is there, it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen. Luckily for us these moments occur more often than the strange out of place moments of food poisoning and ping pong games. Gavin Hood places one building block on top of the other to make your stomach queasy and cause your body to have some anxiety.
You’ll be completely caught up in the moment. So much so that it was only when I was walking down the street and beginning to reflect with my friend did the glaring issues of the movie began to resurface. “Eye in the Sky” is competently made (and makes you wonder if Gavin Hood is mature enough to make this movie what the hell happened with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”?) and begs to ask the tough questions. The emotional weight I think is over played and Hood has a tendency to get overly sentimental (like the ending credits scene). But still I’d rather see war movies like this attempt to be made and be just good than movies like “Act of Valor” be made and be bad.